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Journals from Kanto Gakuin University

2009-09-10 Lots of little things

09/05/09 Good morning, everyone! (Good morning my time, at least) How's life in the West? If you tried to fly here from where you are, you would probably fly west, but somehow the consensus seems to be that you are in the West and I am in the East. Hm How about some general description of what I've seen so far? Our main observation, I think, has been that everything here is smaller: shopping carts are wire frames on wheels with a spot where you can put a basket on top, and side streets are so narrow that often I think, "Ok, that's just for pedestrians, no way a car can fit in there" only to see that some very skillful Japanese person has managed to squeeze a car in there through twists and turns and park it at the very end. Single-person apartments are so tiny that when eleven of us (about half exchange students, half Japanese students) squeezed into Naoki's place and Suguru started cutting onions, we all cried! I'd like to put in a little disclaimer here, though " I'm not complaining about Japan's tendency to make everything mini, I find it entertaining and often useful. Now I know why Japanese cars are so small: they fit down Japanese streets. Compact construction leaves room for the beautiful, densely forested hills that dot the area. Japanese shopping carts are small because Japanese people tend to eat fresh food rather than frozen food, which means frequent but small shopping trips rather than huge twice-a-month Costco trips. Apartments are small because there are a lot of people on not a lot of land, but for one person, a small bathroom, a portable stove top, a sink, a mini-fridge, and one combination living room/bedroom is plenty. And who really needs a 72-ounce Slurpee, anyway? My main culture shock experience so far has been an entertaining challenge in retraining my instincts. People here drive on the left side of the road, which you wouldn't think would really cause any issues for me because I can't drive here, but it affects everything else. People drive on the left side of the road, so they walk on the left side of the sidewalk, stand on the left side of escalators, and let speedy traffic go by on the right. I can't count how many times I've almost run into people on bicycles because we both moved to the same side of the sidewalk. Oh, and when we're walking on the right side of tiny side streets that don't have sidewalks and I hear a car coming behind me, I keep pulling poor Naoki toward the side of the road thinking he's going to get hit. He laughs and reminds me that if we're walking on the right side of the road and we hear a car behind us, it's not going to hit us! I have to say, however, that I admire Japanese organization in escalator usage: slow people (those of us who just want to stand there and make the escalator do the work) stand on the left, leaving a passing lane open for hurried people on the right. This is especially key in busy train stations, which are all over the place. The first few days the poor Japanese buddies were herding us like sheep, always saying, "Over here, on the left! Not on the right!" Silly Americans, trying to stay on the right side of the road/escalator/sidewalk I have also been very entertained by all of the signs and shirts in English, many of which have strange grammar or simply strange messages. I've seen a store called "Bla on the Beach," a restaurant called "Beer Next," an arcade called "Dream Fiesta" (Spanglish in Japan!), a restaurant called "Red Steakhouse: Steak & Hamburg," a purse that said, "Space Travel: As soon as you buy this moon land you are the space people," a sign that cautioned smokers to notice that "My smoke is enveloping that man over there" (complete with labels for the "smoker," "other," "smoke," and for some reason, "stalker"), and best of all, a photo booth that said, "There is girly girly2 for the entire by aim at cute and beauty girl." We decided that last one probably meant something like "This photo booth is for all girls who hope to be cute and beautiful," but we're not really sure Ok, abrupt subject change Sorry, I have a lot of unrelated things to write about! For example, I was very impressed by Japanese air hockey, which apparently involves four people and three pucks! But on another note I am extremely grateful for all of the help, patience, and generosity we have received from our buddies. They have been wonderful, teaching us how to use buses and trains, reminding us to walk on the left, cheerfully muddling through our broken Japanese with hand signals and dictionaries, and inviting us to parties in their little tiny apartments. We were afraid that after the required settling-in, IPO-organized welcome activities, our buddies would sort of disappear, because none of them live near our residence hall and none of them have class until September 24th, so we won't see them on-campus either. But it hasn't been that way at all: they have enthusiastically embraced Facebook, which has allowed us cell-phone-less exchange students to make all sorts of fun plans with them. On Tuesday six of us (plus five or so Japanese students) had curry at Naoki's, on Thursday nine of us (plus four Japanese students) had soup at Mizuki's, on Sunday all ten of us are going to a festival at Suguru's high school, on Tuesday we're going to Shiho's, on Wednesday we're going to a baseball game with Yusuke Hm, I would write about teaching salsa at the welcome party, but I've already written a lot. Basically, I taught basic step and a spin to fifty or so people, and they got a kick out of the dress and the fact that I tried to get them to put their hips into it a bit. Classes have already started, too, but I think I'll save that story for another day... Take care, send me stories, and enjoy whatever you're doing! Lily

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